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Srebrenica: Blood

Emir Suljagic worked here, in the old factory at Potocari just outside Srebrenica which became the UN base. When Srebrenica fell to Serbian forces led by General Ratko Mladic those that did not join the columns marching towards Tuzla fled here hoping for protection - Copyright © by Tim Judah
Emir Suljagic worked here, in the old factory at Potocari just outside
Srebrenica which became the UN base. When Srebrenica fell to Serbian
forces led by General Ratko Mladic those that did not join the columns
marching towards Tuzla fled here hoping for protection

In July 1995 Bosnian Serb forces under General Ratko Mladic murdered some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys after the fall of the enclave of Srebrenica. It was a seminal event in the history, not just of the Balkans but of the rest of this part of Europe too. The failure of Western leaders to act is likely to have been one of the considerations in mind when they decided to go to war with Milosević's Serbia over Kosovo in 1999.

Much has been written about Srebrenica but one of the most profound books of all was written by Chuck Sudetic who worked for the New York Times covering the Croatian and Bosnian wars. Much of the story was told through the eyes of the Čelik family, to whom he is distantly related by marriage. They came from a hamlet in eastern Bosnia and eventually ended up in besieged Srebrenica. Their story gave Sudetic an extraordinary insight, especially into the way that local historical memories shaped peoples' actions in our times. Naser Orić was the commander of Bosnian Muslim forces in Srebrenica and Žepa was another less populated enclave, which was close but physically separated from Srebrenica. This passage describes events in 1992.

In late September, Orić and Žepa's commander, Avdo Palić, amassed their forces around Podravanje, a Serb village that controls a rich bauxite pit and straddles the ancient caravan route between Srebrenica and Žepa. Serb fighters in Podravanje had been drawing Muslim blood since the beginning of the war. They had not forgotten that the Austrian army, which included many local Muslims, had burned their village in 1914 and that the Ustaše, who also included many Muslims from neighbouring villages, had killed over 250 Serbs and burned the place in 1942 and 1943. Podravanje's Serbs had been firing mortars and tank cannons into Srebrenica and nearby Muslim hamlets for months and been ambushing Muslims hiking between Žepa and Srebrenica, just as their ancestors had done in the summer of 1943 when Naza Čelik, Huso's grandmother, was killed there. Now Orić wanted to drive the Serbs out and free the mountain trail between Srebrenica and Žepa.

After the village was taken the torbari – or bag people – rushed in. They were the hungry of Srebrenica who followed the troops with their bags to raid for food and whatever else they could find.

Paja grew angry at himself as he watched the men and women stream back into Srebrenica, bent over under the weight of rucksacks stuffed with meat, potatoes, flour, beans, and salt. Down the mountain into town came blankets, mattresses, clothing, canisters of gasoline, and farm tools. Paja had known that the attack was coming – everyone in Srebrenica had known the attack was coming – but he had been afraid to go. Paja had never before seen a Muslim attack that had ended in anything but retreat and confusion.

Blood and Vengeance: One Family's Story of the War in Bosnia. Chuck Sudetic. 1998.
[pp. 157-8 / W. W. Norton]

April 2007
Tim Judah

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  1. Istanbul: Pamuk's City
  2. Istanbul: Swimming across the Bosphorus
  3. Salonika and the Jews
  4. Salonica: Slaves and Trade
  5. Thessalonika: 1923
  6. Ohrid: Rise and Fall
  7. Tornado of Dust - 1944
  8. Awake Romania - 1989
  9. Novi Sad: Nest of the Serbian nation
  10. Nis: War Capital, 1915
  11. Belgrade and the Selenites
  12. 1996: Serbia Calling
  13. Belgrade Train Station - 1964
  14. Srebrenica: Vengeance
  15. Srebrenica: Blood
  16. Srebrenica: July 1995
  17. Mealtime - Interwar years in Travnik
  18. Dayton: The Napkin Shuttle
  19. London Buses in Sarajevo
  20. The Museum and Bosnian Identity
  21. Foča: The Bosniak
  22. Kosovo: The Swiss Front
  23. Mitrovica: 1908
  24. Pristina: Kosovo like Namibia?
  25. City without traffic - Pristina 1966
  26. Durham in Pristina - 1908
  27. Tirana: 1962
  28. Zog's Tirana
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  30. Kotor and the Montenegrins
  31. The Rabbi of Stolac
  32. Dubrovnik: England, Wine and Wool
  33. Cetinje: Nikola Under the Elm
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  36. Prophet of Yugoslavism
  37. The head of the world
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  39. Sofia: Bulgaria's Jews during WWII
  40. Zamfirovo: Rural livelihoods in the mid-1990s
  41. Kosovo
  42. Romania: 1914
  43. Istanbul: Food and the frugal Turks
  44. Micklagard: Surprising, cosmopolitan Constantinople
  45. Sukhumi: The history of the region became ashes
  46. Black Sea: The coming of steam and rail
  47. Mestrovic: Motherhood and the Victor
  48. Rizvanovici, Bosnia: Gnashing
  49. Down the Danube with Magris: Ruse
  50. From Pristina to Tskhinvali
  51. Serbia, Historians and Hitler's War
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  53. Sarajevo: The Siege Within
  54. Turkey: Osman's Dream
  55. Durres 1961: Beijing on Sea
  56. Cetinje: Eggs for the Ladies
  57. Bosnia: Land of Immigrants
  58. Ottoman Croatia
  59. Harem: All the Sultan's Women
  60. Sibiu: Regime Change, European Style
  61. 1929: The Balkans and the Great Crash
  62. Rumeli and how the Balkans became the Balkans
  63. 1948: Stalin, Kosovo and Swallowing Albania
  64. Transforming Turkey: the 1950s
  65. McMafia and the Balkans
  66. 1916: Serbia in Corfu
  67. Princes Amongst Men
  68. Limp Shevardnadze
  69. Knin: War and Suburbia
  70. In the Mountains of Poetry

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12. April 2007, 00:00